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The Educational Tower of PISA is leaning—dangerously!

By Shlomo Maital

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

   PISA 2018 (Programme for International Student Assessment) is a report on the educational attainments of 15-year-olds globally. As expected, China leads, followed by Singapore, in math, reading and other skills. Overall, scores declined. Israel especially did poorly, leading the world in the spread between top and bottom in schooling achievements.

     But one key point emerged, that is especially disturbing. A British educator, Kevin Courtney, made this observation:

       “…globally fewer than 1 in 10 students were able to distinguish between fact and opinion…[this] is extremely worrying in an era of fake news.”

        Fewer than one in 10 know the difference between fact and opinion. This means that more than 9 in 10 15-year-olds believe that when someone states, “I think that…”, that is indistinguishable from when someone says, “it is a fact that…”.  

         Fact and opinion.   This implies the death of truth, globally. And it indicates we are failing to teach our kids how to engage in critical thinking, which is simply the skill at knowing what is fact and what is not and hence needs checking and verification.

       We should not be surprised, then, when wild unsubstantiated rumors take on a life of their own, and fanciful conspiracy theories, once stated, are widely believed.

         Learning math, reading, science, these are all important. Telling fact from fiction is more important. It is time we taught this to our kids. If they don’t get it in school, perhaps we can give it to them at home?

Why We Do What We Do – Putting it All Together

By Shlomo Maital

Sometimes things just seem to come together, naturally.

  1. I recently taught a Workshop for a wonderful group of high school science teachers. They all told me, their key problem is – motivating their students. Motvating them to learn.
  2. I recently received a research paper from McKinsey, titled “How to improve student educational outcomes: New insights from data analytics”. In this study McKinsey researchers used machine learning (an offshoot of artificial intelligence) to analyze a massive data set — the PISA surveys of 15 year old high school students and their understanding of science and math. The key finding: Student mindsets are twice as predictive of students’ PISA scores than even their home environments. Mindset means “a student’s sense of belonging, motivation and expectations”. This result is robust across the entire world.

The graph shows the % of predictive power of students’ performance. The top two rectangles (orange and purple) represent “mindset” (motivation), for the five different geographical areas.

  1. My wife’s copy of the American Psychological Association magazine Monitor just arrived. In it, 33 leading psychologists were asked, “What is the next big question psychology needs to answer?” The first person quoted was Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck, whose work on growth mindsets (the idea that talent and talent can grow in a nurturing education environment) was seminal. She said we need “an integrative theory of motivation” and “a framework for …effective intervention [to boost motivation].

   These three circles converge. They teach us that how well we motivate ourselves, and those we work with, are THE crucial variables. Because motivated people can do anything (did you watch the Croatia soccer team at the World Cup?). And those without motivation can do nothing.

     Let’s look inward and ask, what lights our spark?   And then look outward and ask, how can we light the sparks of others who work with us?


Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital